Friday, January 04, 2013

RIP Tony Hopkins (drummer)

Just heard via Godfrey De Grut, legendary Auckland jazz drummer Tony Hopkins has passed away, sad news... I remember seeing him play often down at Cause Celebre, always played there with great energy and looked like he was having a ball...

Tony's bio from Creative Jazz Club... "Drummer Tony Hopkins is no stranger to Auckland audiences.. He started his full time career in 1958 as Johnny Devlin’s drummer, backed several famous American pop singers and was a regular at the iconic Montmartre Jazz club in Auckland in the 50’s. He was music co-ordinator at the influential “London Bar” in the from 1990 to ‘94, giving valuable support to kiwi musicians Nathan Haines, Tim Hopkins, Matt Penman, Matt Field, Kevin Fields ."

Chris Bourke notes that Bruce Morley (another fine local drummer, who sadly passed away in November 2012) "... wrote a piece in 1963 called ‘Drums By Four’, played by a quartet that also featured other leading local drummers Don Branch, Tony Hopkins and Allan Nash... [also in 1963] he [Morley] interviewed most of New Zealand’s top drummers for a monograph on the craft in New Zealand. All answered the same set of questions, and typically they came from a wide variety of music styles. Among those interviewed were Don Branch, Ted Croad, Eddie Croad, Lachie Jamieson, Tony Hopkins, Bruce King and Billy Nuku."

Tony won a NZ Music Award in 1993, for best jazz album, for Broadhurst / Hopkins / Haines - Live At The London Bar. He also played 'jazzy rides'on Nathan Haines' debut album Shift Left, which won best jazz album at the NZ Music Awards in 1996.

Video below from 2006, Tony Hopkins playing at Deschlers in High st, with Roger Mannins and Andrew Atwill. Not great sound... taken from the youtube channel of Hopkin's wife, more videos of him live in NZ and Brazil, here...

She writes of her channel: "About Tony Hopkins (not Hannibal the cannibal but a drummer). It is very enjoyable to organize these clips, most of them with Tony (my husband) playing Jazz, Rock,etc. in New Zealand and in concerts in Brazil. Check out his energy!"

ADDED: Chris Bourke has posted part of an interview he did with Tony in 2001 for Musical Chairs on Radio NZ... well worth a read.

excerpt: Tony Hopkins: "I left him [Devlin] after we went to Australia. I was becoming sick of the music and I was getting interested in jazz. I was living in a flat in Kings Cross, a place called Waratah House which was up the top of King’s Cross. There was about five of us guys living there, one of them was Mike Nock. I’ve known Mike since I was 17, we used to share a flat in St Georges Bay Rd in Parnell when we were 17, we’re both the same age.

"I started to get disenchanted with rock’n’roll in about 1959, when I was sharing this flat with Mike Nock in Kings Cross. Mike used to play for Devlin in the very early years, not much, he played just a few gigs with him and we used to play together from time to time at the Montmartre in Lorne St – the building’s still there by the library, behind the St James – anyway, in this flat in Kings Cross, the boys were all into bebop and modern jazz and I started listening to it, and started to play it. So I became a little sick of the simplicity of rock’n’roll. I like the freedom to create that’s in jazz that isn’t so much in rock’n’roll..."

ADDED: Published in The New Zealand Herald on January 12, 2013: "HOPKINS, Anthony Leonard. Passed away at 1.18am on January 4th, 2013 after a short battle with cancer. He was cared for by his family and surrounded by them when he died. Tony The Big Boppa Hopkins, known for his impeccable timing and swing, was a legend in the NZ music scene. An accomplished and inspired musician, his contribution to both Christian and secular music will live on in our hearts and lives. He leaves behind four adult children, who invite you to join them in celebrating his life at a Memorial Service at 11am, Saturday 12th January at St Paul's Church, Auckland City and afterward from 1pm at his family's home in Ellerslie. Our Dad touched and inspired the lives of many with his brave and fiery spirit, and we thank him."

John Dix writes Tony was "One of the great NZ drummers and all-round good guys .... Tony's career was nothing if not eclectic - in the late 1950s he was in NZ's first great rock'n'roll band, Johnny Devlin's Devils, and in the 1960s his jazz workshops provided inspiration and a forum for many Auckland musos. In the 1990s Tony and saxophonist son Tim regularly entertained the cliquey set at Cause Celebre and more recently Tony has been playing with guitar ace Doug Jerebine. At home playing rock, jazz or hip hop, NZ's "oldest teenager" was one of a kind. Hei maumaharatanga ki te tino hoa..."

ADDED: I scanned two photos of Johnny Devlin and his Devils (featuring Tony on drums) at Western Springs, 1959, from the book Stranded In Paradise, by John Dix, who says these shows at Western Springs attracted over 10,000 people. Photos credited as sourced from Phil Warren.

Johnny Devlin... Photo sourced for Stranded in Paradise from Phil Warren
..and his Devils, Tony Hopkins on drums. Photo sourced for Stranded in Paradise from Phil Warren

ADDED: Found this photo blow in a Metro article on Doug Jerebine/Bob Gillett (Dec 2011)... caption says this is The Jazz Workshop at the Bali Hai, off High St (band later became The Embers), October 1962: Brain Smith, tenor sax; Tony Hopkins, drums; Bob Gillett, alto sax; Neville Whitehead, bass; Mike Walker, piano.

ADDED: One of Tony's last live performances, posted on youtube by his daughter Kathryn. There's another video she's posted (also below), of "Tony Hopkins being presented the Scroll of Honor music award by his son Tim Hopkins in Auckland, New Zealand on Sunday 28th October, 2012. Awarded for over 50 years contribution to the New Zealand music industry, his mentoring and charity work. We salute you Tony.

"What is special about this award, is that Dad has recently been diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer, that has already spread to his liver and that it is inoperable. The specialist has given him 12 months. This award of recognition and validation for all of his years dedicated to playing and sharing music is such a wonderful way of giving something back to him. It has meant a lot to him, as his so many people coming forward with their positive thoughts, prayers and words. Thanks to everyone for that. We love you Dad. Thanks to the Variety Artists Club for the award."

ADDED: "So What? The Jazz Show [on ALT TV]: Kevin Haines (presenter) - In this 1 h 47 min TV program Kevin interviews Mike Walker and Tony and they play together. Here we feature the playing and interviewing sections where Tony is directly involved." Watch interview below and more at

ADDED: From NZ Musician, Vol 8. No. 4 August/September 1999
Get Yer Kit Off ... Tony Hopkins
Luke Casey, drummer for Auckland band Eye TV, talks to the longtime rock'n'roller and jazz legend.
Although you might not know the name, Tony Hopkins is one of this country's most experienced, skilled and prolific drummers. Born in 1940, Tony has nearly five decades (!) of drumming experience under his belt. From first outings as one of the Devils playing with New Zealand's first rock 'n' roll star, Johnny Devlin in the late 1950s, and flirtations with rock 'n' roll in Hong Kong on the 1960s, Tony's career is filled with accolades. His latest triumph was picking up the award for Best Jazz Album, along with Aaron Nevezie and Chris White, at the 1998 New Zealand Music Awards. His jazz trio, which gigs regularly around Auckland, also won the same award in 1992. I managed to pin Tony down for a conversation after a late night performance at Auckland jazz bar, Deschlers.
How long have you been playing?
I've been playing for about 44 years. I started around 1958 and had a 17-year break from 1965 to 1982. I've been at it for a long time man!
Did you ever have lessons?
I studied with a guy called Barry Simpson in Auckland. That was when I first started. I had 10 lessons with him. After that he told me to stop taking lessons because everyone was saying we sounded too similar. So I guess he was an early influence! I have been pretty much self-taught from then on.
Who have you played with?
Where do we start man?! Well, after I toured Australia in the late 1950s with Johnny Devlin - we were the support for the Everly Brothers and other stars - I moved to Hong Kong. I got a job as musical director for '6 O'Clock Rock' which was a weekly radio programme sponsored by Coca-Cola. I spent a year there and then came back to New Zealand in 1962. I toured with Bobby Vee, Jimmy Rodgers and The Crystals and made TV and radio programmes. After three years doing that I began a business career in sales and marketing. Nearly 20 years later I picked up the sticks again man. During that time I lived in Australia and I didn't come back until 1990 (one presumes this period coincides with the rearing of Tony's famous progeny, saxophone player Tim Hopkins).
I spent four years as musical director for the London Bar, between 1990 and 1994. That trio (consisting of Phil Broadhurst on piano and Kevin Haines on bass) won the Jazz Album of the Year award in 1992. Since then I have been playing regularly around Auckland with residencies at Cause Celebre, Deschlers and Kitty O'Briens. I also hosted and played on the highly successful 'Off the Record' radio programmes funded by NZ On Air. We made a total of 52 one hour programmes (featuring guests such as Malcolm McNeill and Nathan Haines), and the programme won Best New Zealand Produced Light Music Programme at the 1997 Radio awards.
What kit do you play?
I have three kits in total. Two 1960s Slingerland kits and a more modern Pearl kit. I usually play the 1963 Slingerland kit that I got from Lewis Eady's. They used to endorse me back then. In the '60s there were basically three kits that were really valued - Slingerland, Ludwig and Gretsch. There's a nice history to that kit. I sold it in 1973 when I moved to Australia. When I came back to Auckland in 1990 I heard that a guy was selling a Slingerland kit so I went and had a look at it and it was my old one! So I bought it back again. It had been painted black but the guy had stripped it down to its original colour which is a great pink pearl. I just love it. I keep the Pearl for rock gigs and for when I tour because it has hard covers. The Slingerlands have soft covers and I don't want to damage them.
The Slingerland kits both have 20" bass drums and 12" and 14" toms, and the Pearl kit has an 18" bass drum and 10", 12" and 14" tom toms. I always use a Ludwig metal shell snare drum. With cymbals I prefer the old 'K' Zildjians. I have a beautiful 70-year-old Istanbul 'K' ride cymbal that I bought from a drummer that was down on his luck in New York. I also just bought a great 'Carl Allen' model Sabian 'Minibell' ride from Drum City in Balmoral. That is a great cymbal.
Do you have a favourite drummer?
Jack DeJohnette definitely - for ideas, fluidity, everything. In my early days I was an Art Blakey man. In terms of newer guys I really like Bill Stewart (who has played with John Scofield, Maceo Parker and others).
What's your attitude towards education?
The drums are so acutely rhythmical and they must fire - the drummer cannot have an off night. Anything that improves this is a good thing. Education can be as simple as listening to a great record. I think all drummers and all musicians need to keep focused on 'the plot'. That, in my opinion, is the music. It is so easy to become obsessed with technique, fame, the pretty girl that just walked into the club, but this is all secondary to the music - and should remain so.
Where do you, as the drummer, fit into the band dynamic?
The drums drive the band, but not in a dominating way. The drummer contributes to what I call the 'shared consciousness' of the group - supporting and pushing the music. It really varies from song to song.
What are your band responsibilities beyond drumming?
Mine are mainly organisational - arranging musicians for record dates and shows. Recently though I have become more involved in song arrangement and form.
What would other drummers notice about your style?
I'm big on swing and I play with a lot of energy, emotion and feeling. I like to think that people pick up on the feeling of my playing rather than my expertise or technique. I want people to feel good, to give them an escape for a while.


Hopkat said...

Thanks for posting this article on our Dad. It's great to be reading so many stories and shared experiences of the man he was and his life. Is there anyway we could get a copy of the Johnny Devlin photo where he is playing drums? I would love to have framed and wall mounted. It's such a good photo of him in his youth. Best, Kate Hopkins

Peter McLennan said...

Hi Kate, thanks for the comment. I scanned them from the book Stranded in Paradise, I can email you the scans in hi-resolution, if you like. My email is petermac008 at gmail dot com. Cheers

Peter McLennan said...

Kate -I've also added some of your videos of Tony to this post hope that's ok. Like the one of him getting his award! Send me an email and I'll get you those photos. Cheers

Geoff Houtman said...

See you Saturday morning...


Kiwiguitars said...

What sad news, I met tony thru a shred love of music at the london bar on monday nights when all my old band mates would meet up for beer and some chill tunes from tony and varying band members... then seeing him at Deshlers .... Now looking back I do remember him playing at celebrate, i think with Nathan Haines and maybe someone from freebase? man the memories hazy but he was such a cool cat.. such style in his playing and such a really genuine lovely approachable human being that loved sharing his love of music with everyone.. even us tattooed freaks who followed him..
R.I.P Tony. your a nz icon!

Unknown said...

Thank you for this article. That was a good source of information for me about his very past. I am Tony´s wife. I also want to inform you that besides the material on youtube that I posted, I have compiled for Tony´s website all shows from New Zealand on Air 'Off The Record' and 'Kiwi Jazz Tracks'. I am slowly making changes to his website, but you can listen to all episodes in those radio shows.Here is the link

Unknown said...

Hi, thanks for writing this, Dad was a very special guy and one of only a handful of musicians in NZ that reached icon status. Thanks to all the many who attended the memorial and wake, especially Roger Manins for his support, love and care, truly a brother. Kia kaha.